Having to be the grown ups.

August 4th, 2010

This seems to be the theme of my week. I am really not enjoying it very much.  And so I blog….

As I wrote in my last post, I have a child that wants me to rescue her from (very expensive) sleepaway camp. I expect the pleas to intensify during visiting day, although I hope to be pleasantly surprised. For now, I am leaning towards making her stick it out until the end. Tough love. Very grown up. Not a lot of fun.

The teenager did a teenager thing. He broke a rule, he has to pay the price. He hates the price, and he isn’t very happy about it. It is a steep price……. it was a big rule. He would like the conversation to be about the rule itself. Of course it isn’t. It’s about the breaking of a rule, any rule, and just getting caught the 400th or bizzillionth time. Add in the trying-to-play-off-of-the-divorced-parents-that-can’t-get-along tactics that are so normal hasn’t made the situation more fun.

We have to remain consistent – and calm. We have to follow through, because, well, because we have to. We have to deflect the arguments from the other parent to reneg on the consequence and not be consistent. We may have to endure the withholding of the teenager’s time and affection as our punishment for punishing.

It was much easier when I was the teen in this spelled out scenario, and someone else had to be the grown up. Nobody told me then, in my indignation and rage, that this end of it is actually harder.  The only thing worse than having to be the “bad cop” parent is being the non-custodial “bad cop” parent. At least as the stepmom I can take a lot less of the heat than DH.

Giving our children what they need instead of what they want is so hard. The challenge is daily, yet I often feel we cave less than some. We are the strict meanie parents who don’t give our kids candy, after all.

There isn’t any solution; we just have to take our medicine and do what is right, precisely as we are demonstrating to our children that they must do.  So I gripe (blog), because I would much rather give in, feed them junk, let them stay up late and send them home full and happy to someone else who has to worry about their character development.

Oh wait… I get to do that (G-d willing) with their kids, right?  No wonder they* say that grandparenting is the best part!

*”they” = my parents.

Health Nuts

June 15th, 2010

My husband and I try to keep our house as healthy as possible. This is true in terms of my stellar housecleaning (not!) as well as the food that is allowed in the house.  We don’t buy chips or cookies for the kids. We reserve dessert for Shabbat and simchas. No sugar cereals. This includes “healthy” cereals, like Life, that actually have a lot of grams of sugar. Absolutely no candy, and no juice.

Many people address these choices with a great deal of scorn. We are “mean parents”, we are creating hoarders with food issues,  and of course our children will take twice as much junk as other kids whenever we aren’t around, didn’t you know?

First of all, let me just say that my kids do have juice and dessert when they are in other places, and yes, they sometimes sneak stuff (and think that we actually don’t know), and that a few times every summer we simply have to go get ice cream because it is just too hot and Ima feels like it. So there are exceptions.  They also still come out waaaaaaay ahead in terms of junk consumption, despite the sneaking. And not only do they not have food issues, they are learning the AMAZING skill of taking “just one”, and they recently declared that when allowed a “normal” sized piece of birthday cake that it was just too much icing and they couldn’t eat it.

I find it terribly amusing just how opinionated other people are about this particular issue. Most of the time when parents really feel the need to probe this issue with me, they eventually tell me it is because they are not really happy with the amount of sugar and junk their own kids eat, but they just don’t feel there is any way they could buck the system.  They want to believe no one can do it, therefore our existence is problematic. I get that.

Bucking “the system” isn’t always a lot of fun. I don’t know that I would stand up to the irrational and ridiculous social pressure to load my kids’ bodies with sugar if my husband and I were not such a united front on the matter. He couldn’t care less what anyone thinks, pretty much all of the time, so this doesn’t seem to be an issue for him at all. He is even happy to be the bad cop, saying no more consistently and without any defensiveness than I could ever manage.

The “why” we do this is on the one hand simple and obvious – it’s healthy – and on the other hand a lengthy explanation.

I tell my children that our body is like the front lawn of our neshama, our soul.  Now why would anyone want to fill their front lawn with garbage and junk? I also explain that we have a mitzvah to guide all of our actions by serving Hashem, and that sugar slows us down, makes us more prone to illness, and makes less room in our bodies for the food and drink that do help us serve Hashem. Which, by the way is true.

I don’t tell them that without developing a taste for all things oily, salty and sweet early on, that they are learning how to actually taste food, try a wider range of things, not become “picky eaters” and to have a ground work of healthy habits that I hope will prevent the weight struggles and food issues from which I suffer.

I do tell them that the restrictions are out of our love for them, their bodies, and our love for Hashem. We want to show we appreciate the wonderful, nourishing foods that He created, and that we don’t take our miraculous bodies for granted.

One of the hardest parts of this decision? Trying to explain to my children why other G-d fearing, well-meaning, caring good parents are happy to “litter all over the front lawn” and give their kids a green light to eat whatever they choose!  I of course explain that their are different approaches, etc., but in the mind of a four year if we restrict their junk consumption because we love them, then what does that say about those other parents? What does it say about the teachers in school who tell them to go ahead and eat the candy – Ima and Abba aren’t looking.

Confronting this battle within my kids’ school is another article in and of itself.  I am proud to say that on a local level, progress has been made….. very small amounts of progress over a very long amount of time. We aren’t the only ones:  Soveya is an organization trying to change the thinking about food in yeshivas and the frum world in general, “one pound at a time”.

So. how did I get started on this topic today? Homeshuling’s  Amy Meltzer posted an article about juice for kids.

I never really thought cutting out juice was necessary. I only gave pure juice (as opposed to cocktail or sugar drinks) to the kids, and I diluted it, but juice is healthy, right? And then five years ago, just when I thought the pediatrician would tell me that our food policies were too strict even for him, he said “don’t ever kids your kids juice.”

What?

He explained that kids crave fruit sugar, and that fruit is GREAT for kids. They will get the sweetness they crave, but that the fruit itself has important fiber and vitamins that they won’t get if they have the juice. He also explained that kids who drink juice drink a LOT less water than kids who don’t. This is true from my experience. So, armed with the powerful phrase “The Dr. said”, I stopped giving the kids juice, cold -turkey, years ago.

Now I buy a LOT of fruit. People gawk in the store and give me looks that clearly show they are sure I work at the zoo. One day I am going to print up a shirt for myself that says:

T-shirt graphic

[ I hope you like my first drawing. You can see why I don't make them. I am no Allie Brosh, nor do I aspire to be. But I really do want a T-shirt that says that, if anyone is thinking ahead to my birthday. ]

…Getting back to my point, I do buy a lot of fruit, but I am spared the endless dilution of juice and the lugging of large jugs. (I lug large bags of fruit instead.)

The juice article that was posted:  http://www.inhabitots.com/2010/06/11/85-of-kids-drinks-snacks-could-contain-high-levels-of-lead/ explains that many, many brands of juice for kids may actually be toxic.  Kudos to Dr. Shah for sparing us. Do you think maybe this will hold back the ridicule from the scornful throngs?

On a last note, food policies are like religious observance; anyone to the right of one is “extreme” and anyone to the left is “too liberal”. So we are by no means considered hard-core in healthy eating circles. After all, we still have white flour, white sugar and even – gasp! – hydrogenated oils – in our home. Everyone has to find the balance that works for them. What we do works for us. I never try to suggest it would work for everyone. I am amazed when the same people who campaign on my children’s behalf for lollipops and other forms of food dye ask me with astonishment how I get my kids to eat nicely, or how I get them to sit still.   If you tell me I am doing great with the cutting down sugar but am far from feeding them healthily, you may be right.

…. But at least it turns out I am sparing them lots of lead in juice. Who knew?

Brief post: Pesach memories

April 1st, 2010

Chag Sameach. I hope your seders were as uplifting and meaningful as ours. I will look forward to writing about them in the coming days.  I unfortunately fell ill with strep this year, which is amazing given that I actually had less stress going into the holiday than ever before.  But it certainly translated into lots of sleep and time alone with the family as I quarantined myself.

Today I just want to share my earliest and fondest Pesach memory:

Coming downstairs in the morning to my maternal grandmother “Nanny” in an old and ugly housecoat standing over the stove making the best matzoh brie I have ever tasted. I am sure there was a stick of butter in the pan.

She was the only one of my grandparents to live long enough to have a relationship with my kids, and we all miss her.

Today was the first matzoh brie of the holiday, and it always makes me think of her.

Chag Sameach.

Cinnamon and Sugar

December 20th, 2009

I try to cut down on the amount of sugar and sweets my family eats. I don’t cut out sugar entirely, and I am not a big fan of substitutes. I don’t let them eat candy at all, but that is for another post.

The cinnamon and sugar in the store is not only expensive, but almost entirely sugar. The recipe in my cookbook (The Joy of Cooking) is a high sugar-to-cinnamon ratio as well.

So when my children were only toddlers I got in the habit of mixing my own cinnamon and sugar, keeping the sugar to a minimum. I hoped they would get used to it tasting that way. They have. The nice thing about limiting their sugar intake is that it doesn’t take much for them to taste – and enjoy  - the sweetness.

I used to think I was quite clever because I recycled baby food jars. I took an awl and poked holes in the top. I filled it with cinnamon and sugar – about a tablespoon of sugar and a bunch of cinnamon (isn’t that scientific?), and screwed the top back on. It was only this year that I realized that I could simply use an extra set of salt and pepper shakers just as easily.

We now have a beautiful set with just cinnamon and sugar in them. I buy plain oatmeal, and the children can add their own cinnamon and sugar. This saves money as well. They can make the oatmeal sweeter, but too much and the cinnamon will overpower it, so I don’t have to worry about how much sugar they are adding. Same with waffles; I don’t own syrup.

The children like the feeling of portion control as well, and it is yet one more thing I don’t have to do for them.

If your children are older and really used to the taste of the sweet oatmeal packets, or other food with lots of added sugar this may be a hard sell, but if they are two or three or younger it is really worth the try, even if the older siblings won’t go for it. (Which they will, I bet.)

Rice cakes with cream cheese and sprinkling the c & s is a favorite too.

Snow day… so much to say.

December 20th, 2009

Last night was the first real snowfall of the year. Although there was no school to cancel, it still feels like the first real snow day.

There are so many things unique and important I have learned the hard way about making a snow day successful – at least what I consider successful.

First of all, I try to always offer the snow plow guys that come some coffee or pancakes (see below). I don’t know for sure that they plow a little more for me, but I am pretty sure they do, and I think it models great hakarat hatov for the kids.

I took out the snow gear Thanksgiving weekend when I had a few hours to really work. Sorting what fits, getting out 7 (!) pairs of boots, gloves, etc. The pool gear bins in the coat closet became the hat bin and the glove bin. The odd gloves didn’t get thrown away, but are in a separate bag. That way when one is lost, and a child is desperate, out comes a mismatched glove to save the day.

Three years ago I went on-line and bought a wholesale package of kids’ waterproof gloves. There were 50 pair in the pack, all the same, with a variety of detail colors. Kind of like this listing: http://www.rhinomart.com/asst-water-prove-ski-glove-wholesale-item-249-4560/.   I realize that 50 pairs may seem extreme, but I wound up paying a lot less (like half) per pair. I have a lot of kids who not only wear a lot of gloves but LOSE a lot of gloves. I have now had 3 years in a row with enough gloves, as we have slowly used them up. We have had enough when kids soak theirs and want a second (or third pair.) We have enough for stray kids that end up at our house and need extra gloves. And no getting upset when someone comes home without the ones they left with.

It was a great investment. Most of my kids are outgrowing them as we speak, and I will probably get a case of the next size up.  The smartest will be to make do until February or March and buy them for next year, when they are really, really cheap.

Snow pants; they fit more sizes then the labels say, so I always keep them around despite the sizes listed until the winter comes and we can try them on. My size 8/10 boys are wearing size 6/7 snow pants. Again. I will buy at the end of the winter when they are on clearance for next year.  Or wait until I get hand me downs, as I am often blessed to get.

My kids have come to know that I will make a bigger, homemade and hearty breakfast on a snow day. I have learned that if they go out with a filling warm breakfast in their tummy they will stay out longer. And complain less. Our favorite is healthy whole wheat, no sugar, no oil pancakes. Sounds awful I know. They are delicious. I use apple sauce; it is a modified version of a recipe on the Mott’s apple sauce jar.  I will post the recipe today as well if I am given enough time. I use a lot of blueberries (frozen; I stock up when they are on sale,) and I give the kids cinnamon and sugar. I have to remember to write a separate cinnamon & sugar post, too.

Next; when kids come in from the snow, they are STARVING. I have learned to use this to my advantage. Although I will make hot cocoa, I usually have some fresh steamed veggies waiting on the table when they first get in. Or worse – leftovers! Once they devour whatever happens to be in front of them, I move on to what they may actually want to eat. Amazing.

Movies. Almost always a staple on snow day – but it really has to be its own post as well. So much to say….

Drying wet stuff; I try to have two of everything. I have hooks in the front hall, and I take the usually messy mix and get it out of there so the wet stuff can go there right away. Same for the shoe rack, which happens to be over a heating vent. It means the coats and hats are a big mess until the whole thing is over. The house is always a mess for snow day anyway. I have come to accept it is part of the fun.

I don’t like to go out and play in the snow. I love the excuse to not leave the house. I don’t like the cold. I have lived in CT, Boston, and Montreal (!), and I have had my fill of the cold and the snow. Unless there happen to be skis on my feet.

So one of my favorite things about having so many children is that they have lots of people to play with out in the snow and I don’t have to be one of them.

When I was starting this journey with my children, I used to be stunned at just how long a snow day seems to last. Today has been very long already; it is 11 am, and my children have gotten up, made and devoured a messy breakfast. Gone out in the snow, come back in, made snow slush, built a fort, and started two messy craft projects.

Expecting the day to stretch out and be amazingly long has been really helpful.  I have come to just watch them and really, really enjoy the snow days. Enjoy them enjoying them. Enjoy the slower pace. Enjoy the mess. Allowing the peace of the snow to make it a peaceful – fun, messy, chaotic, long and tiring – but peaceful day.